Joseph Dana writes:
On Sunday June 5, hundreds of Palestinians gathered outside the Qalandia checkpoint separating Jerusalem and Ramallah. They were part of an unarmed demonstration marking the anniversary of Israel’s takeover of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, known as Naksa Day.
Simultaneously, thousands of Palestinians descended on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and attempted to mass on the Lebanese border with nothing more than their bodies. As the spring sun beat down on the demonstration, Israel killed 23 demonstrators with live ammunition and injured hundreds.
The Qalandia demonstration, organised by the Ramallah-based March 15 youth movement, was the embodiment of the Arab Spring in Palestine. Demonstrators, inspired by the revolutions sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East, approached the concrete walls of the checkpoint and were met by fully armed Israeli soldiers who, without a moment’s pause, opened fire with teargas and stun grenades. Panic descended on the crowd as people collapsed from the effects of teargas inhalation.
I watched as some Palestinian youth responded to the Israeli incursion by throwing stones at soldiers, who then returned fire using large, aluminium teargas canisters as bullets, in violation of Israeli army rules of conduct. Within an hour, soldiers had taken over Palestinian rooftops around the walled checkpoint and were firing rubber bullets at the unarmed protesters. One Palestinian was hit directly in the face. The Israeli military reported that one border policeman was slightly injured in the demonstration.
Mainstream Israeli and international media argued endlessly, as though in a state of reverie, about whether Palestinian demonstrators who threw rocks should be considered unarmed, non-violent or violent. Absent from the conversation was the fact that Israel is rapidly increasing a programme of military repression against demonstrations in a last-ditch effort to dominate the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Portraying unarmed Palestinians as violent rioters enabled the press to downplay Israel’s heavy-handed reaction to the demonstrations. This response was largely based on unsubstantiated accounts of demonstrators’ behaviour, most of which came directly from the Israeli military and were completely false.